Revealed – lost in a scribble and a scrawl: Brian Rowan on a reference to the OTR letters in June 2002

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Today the website prints an unpublished note dated June 11 2002 describing the letters element in the OTR process.

I found it in an old and tattered notebook this morning as part of a continuing trawl through my diaries and other written information going back over a decade.

The note – one of several in the period – is a reference to the Eibhlin Glenholmes case.

Across radio, television and online, the story dominated BBC news coverage on June 13 2002.

Ms Glenholmes was once described under the banner of Britain’s ‘Most Wanted’ but, in those reports, I set out the process leading to her being told that she was no longer being sought by the police.

It involved a request for information to the Northern Ireland Office, a check with the prosecuting authorities, a review of her status and then a response.

At the time, I made no reference to a letter and, in interviews in recent days, said I hadn’t been aware of such correspondence.

My recall was based on what I published and reported at the time – not, these almost twelve years later, on a reference to my actual research notes.

I have now found them.

And, clearly, I attached more significance to the news that the Eibhlin Glenholmes on-the-run case had been settled and the methodology of how that had worked.

The request for information, the check with the prosecuting authorities, the review of the case and then the response.

Did I assume that response would have been in writing? Is that why I didn’t include that specific piece of information? I just don’t know.

Almost twelve years ago, I was also reporting the Glenholmes case in the wider context of a source saying “some dozens” of similar cases had already been settled.

At the time, this for me was the news.



The note (above) from June 11 2002, opens with the words: “Oh dear.”

I have written the name Glenholmes and, the source at the other end of the line, is clearly concerned.

You have to remember the context of the period – the IRA link to break-in at the Castlereagh Special Branch office, allegations of arms development and testing in Colombia, continuing battles over decommissioning and the political institutions in constant peril.

The “oh dear” is a response to the fact that I was now about to report an OTR story – and not just the Glenholmes element but the other cases.

I have had to cover part of my notes that we print on this website to ensure my source is not identified.

But, in my scrawl and scribble, I wrote the following: “I could get you an official line on that.

“She [Glenholmes] is one of those people who was processed and the way it worked – certain people who asked for this were given letters saying we have checked with the prosecuting authorities who have checked with police forces across the UK and you’re not wanted.”

I ask about numbers, and you will see I have written the words “some dozens” with a question mark.

The source responds: “I don’t know [but]quite a few have [been settled]. ”

That figure of some dozens reported in June 2002 stands up  alongside the emerging information of the past week – 41 cases settled by November ’01; 61 by September ’02.

You will also read that I scribbled the following: “These letters don’t give you an amnesty. It doesn’t give guarantees for the future.”



To explain the process in the Glenholmes case, I used a later note (above) taken on June 12 2002.

In what we publish today, I have had to block out much of its content to protect the source of the information.

But this is the note in which the background of Ms Glenholmes return to Belfast is explained.

An extradition attempt failed. Fresh warrants were issued, but in late 1994 the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the case.

I was told that it was as far back as January 1995 that the CPS had concluded that “there was no longer sufficient evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction”.

From 1995 she had not been wanted, but this had not been made public.

The information request to the NIO on behalf of Ms Glenholmes was not made until 2000 and, it was later that year, she returned home.

She could face another battle in the coming days.

The Belfast republican is currently a member of the Forum for Victims and Survivors which will meet in special session on Thursday.

In the fallout from the OTR row there is now a suggestion that some are threatening to resign if Ms Glenholmes remains part of the Forum.

There is no possibility of her standing down from her role – and, so, the fallout from the OTR row continues.

(Rowan note: I have not yet had an opportunity to review the interviews I did on television and radio on June 13 2002 – nor have I had an opportunity to listen to an interview with a senior unionist politician at that time. If anything further comes to light, I will update this piece).


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. John Loughran on

    Brian yet another significant and well-informed contribution to the ongoing OTR debate to which I just want to add some personal thoughts.

    I am particularly disturbed to your observation ‘that some are threatening to resign’ from the Victims Forum.

    So I offer my personal thoughts to bring my perspective to this debate and to ask of those who make the threat – as outlined in your contribution – to explain their rationale particularly when as you have evidenced the OTR issue has been in the public domain for a decade or more.

    With threats of resignation from our First Minister the whole chapter has now degenerated into a farce and in this process further divided victims.

    Sadly where this all ends no one knows as some seek to bring wider political issues into an arena which is to advocate for the needs of all victims.

    More specifically you make the point: “In the fallout from the OTR row there is now a suggestion that some are threatening to resign if Ms Glenholmes remains part of the Forum.”

    To my mind Eibhlin Glenholmes – like so many young men and women – has a conflict experience that should and must be heard. She was shot and injured in 1974 as a young woman. It is this grave trauma through which she qualifies to be eligible as a Forum member, is it not?

    Therefore by any consistent definition Eibhlin was a direct victim of the conflict and like all others has ever right to be part of the Victims Forum.

    For those who are threatening to resign they really need to reflect on why they would seek to deny the victimhood experience and trauma of someone injured in the conflict.

    If this society is to finally engage with the legacy of the past we all genuinely and in a spirit of generosity need to put the needs of all victims above narrow petty politicking – that is the challenge before us all!

  2. Not clear what the significance of this is. Does it mean Rowan did not do his job as a reporter back then? and so we are now stuck with this nonsense that everyone says that they, and/or everyone else, knew about this, at the time and/or later, but it will/should have/shouldn’t have any impact upon the ‘peace process’/’the past’?

    • The report I did at the time June 13 2002 was about two things – a security briefing linking IRA leaders to weapons development in Colombia and emerging detail on OTRs including the Glenholmes case and “some dozens” of others. I have now re-read the unionist response to the Colombian element of the report including a description of it as “a dramatic breach of ceasefire”. Would they not have heard what I said about the OTRs? Across BBC output – radio, television and online – the methodology used in the Glenholmes case was described. It included a request to the NIO for information, checks made with prosecuting authorities, details of a case review by the Crown Prosecution Service and a response that Ms Glenholmes was no longer wanted. I reported her return to Belfast. Why did I not include the detail of a letter? I can only imagine that I considered it as irrelevant then as I do now. I probably accurately assessed the two-way process of information request and response was not by carrier pigeon.

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